WHO declares the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic

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The World Health Organization declared a global pandemic as the coronavirus rapidly spreads across the world.

  • “We’re deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction,” the WHO’s chief said
  • WHO officials had been reluctant to make such a declaration.
  • Declaring a pandemic is charged with major political and economic ramifications, global health experts say.

The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on Wednesday as the new coronavirus, which was unknown to world health officials just three months ago, has rapidly spread to more than 121,000 people from Asia to the Middle East, Europe and United States.

“In the past two weeks the number of cases outside China has increased thirteenfold and the number of affected countries has tripled,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference at the organization’s headquarters in Geneva. “In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths and the number of affected countries to climb even higher.”

Tedros said several countries have been able to suppress and control the outbreak, but he scolded other world leaders for failing to act quickly enough or drastically enough to contain the spread.

“We’re deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction,” he said, just before declaring the pandemic. “We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear.”

Cases in China and South Korea have significantly declined, he said, adding that 81 countries don’t have any confirmed cases and 57 countries have 10 or fewer cases.

 

‘Lack of resolve’

“We can not say this loudly enough or clearly enough or often enough: All countries can still change the course of this pandemic,” he said. “Some countries are struggling with a lack of capacity. Some countries are struggling with a lack of resources. Some countries are struggling with a lack of resolve.”

Declaring a pandemic is charged with major political and economic ramifications, global health experts say. It can further rattle already fragile world markets and lead to more stringent travel and trade restrictions. WHO officials had been reluctant to declare a global pandemic, which is generally defined as an illness that spreads far and wide throughout the world.

WHO officials needed to “make it clear” that the world was in the midst of a pandemic, said Lawrence Gostin, a professor and faculty director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University.

It “is clear” the new coronavirus has been a pandemic and WHO was “behind the curve,” Gostin told CNBC on Tuesday.

More on this story from CNBC

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